The Orioles are protecting five notable prospects.
The Baltimore Orioles added five players to the 40-man roster ahead of the 6 pm deadline Tuesday to prevent them from being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Pitchers Grayson Rodriguez, Seth Johnson, Drew Rom, and Noah Denoyer, as well as shortstop Joey Ortiz, are now safely part of the 40-man roster.
There are no surprises here, as all but Denoyer are ranked prospects, and all five are close to the Majors. Unlike other teams protecting future star international signings in the low minors, the Orioles will not be wasting any options years among this group. Rodriguez was the most obvious add in all of baseball as one of the very best pitching prospects and someone close to debuting. There is a very good chance that Rodriguez would have reached the Majors last June, but an injury sidelined him until September. At that point, the O’s didn’t risk pushing him with the team falling out of the playoff race.
When he was on the field, though, GrayRod was fantastic. In 69.2 innings across 14 starts at AAA, Rodriguez had a 2.20 ERA and 0.933 WHIP. His 35.7% strikeout rate and 7.7% walk rate show he is Major-League ready, and Rodriguez should be in the Orioles rotation on Opening Day. He brings an enviable pitch mix to the table, headlined by a horizontal changeup similar to Devin Williams’ disco ball.
Joey Ortiz had a breakout 2022 season across two levels to play his way onto the 40-man roster. In 111 games at AA, Ortiz posted a nice .792 OPS with 15 home runs, a career high in both the minors and college. He earned a promotion to AAA, and he then raked in 26 games with the Tides. His .346/.400/.567 line in a month of games was the best stretch of his pro career and coincided with Connor Norby’s power surge to give the Orioles even more quality infield prospects. One of the many mid-round finds by the current regime, Ortiz has always been a good defensive shortstop, so the improvements on offense place him on FanGraphs’ Top 100 list.
Seth Johnson is one of the newest members of the organization, as he was the main trade return for Trey Mancini. Johnson was in the Top 100 earlier this year, but Tommy John Surgery wiped out the rest of his season and most of next season, as well. In 27 innings across seven starts at High-A before the trade, Johnson had a 3.00 ERA and 1.259 WHIP. The righty had a 37.2% K-rate and 10% BB-rate.
Some people might wonder why the Orioles are protecting someone who won’t play next year, but injured pitchers are actually the clearest Rule 5 candidates. Teams can easily stash them on the IL all season, and then they have a good returning pitcher the following year. Teams also often draft pitchers returning from injury, such as the O’s picking Tyler Wells in December 2020.
Drew Rom is a mid-tier pitching prospect and one of the few notable starters among Orioles farmhands. He pitched for Bowie and Norfolk this season and had pretty plain results at both stops. He had a 4.37 ERA in 82.1 innings with the Baysox and a 4.54 ERA with the Tides. His strikeout rate fell from 27.6% to 26%, and his walk rate rose from 7.9% to 10.9%. Clearly he needs more time in AAA, but Rom has a good chance of reaching the Majors next season, whether that is in Baltimore or elsewhere.
Noah Denoyer is the most unheralded guy in the group, but he was one of the biggest risers in the system. An undrafted free agent in 2019, Denoyer pitched to a 2.61 ERA in 51.2 innings across 14 games at AA this year. A 35.3% K-rate and 5.6% BB-rate are very appealing and earned Denoyer a spot in the AFL. He was part of an Orioles contingent where the four pitchers are all eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, and the team was deciding whether or not to protect them. Denoyer impressed the most as a Fall Star and gets a roster spot as a result.
There are plenty of other interesting players eligible for Rule 5, but very few of them are really in danger of being drafted. Low-level hitters like Mishael Deson, Noelberth Romero, Isaac De Leon, and Luis Valdez are worth following, but they would completely flounder in the Majors next season. AA catcher Maverick Handley has a backup role in his future but jumping to the big leagues would also be a tough challenge for him. There are tons of eligible relievers, but that is true of every organization, which means that any one of them getting picked is quite low.